Papal conclave
October 1958
Dates and location
25–28 October 1958
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Vatican City
Key officials
DeanEugène Tisserant
Sub-deanClemente Micara
CamerlengoBenedetto Aloisi Masella
ProtodeaconNicola Canali
SecretaryAlberto di Jorio[1]
Elected pope
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli
Name taken: John XXIII
Pope John XXIII, 1958–1963.jpg
← 1939
1963 →

The 1958 papal conclave occurred following the death of Pope Pius XII on 9 October 1958. The College of cardinals met from 25 to 28 October and on the eleventh ballot elected Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, Patriarch of Venice as the new pope. He accepted the election and took the name John XXIII. He was the second Patriarch of Venice to be elected Pontiff in the 20th century after Pope Pius X.

Some 51 of the 53 cardinals participated as cardinal electors. The Communist governments of Hungary and Yugoslavia prevented the other two from traveling to Rome. In comparison with the conclave of 1922, when three cardinals failed to reach Rome in time for the start of the conclave that opened on the tenth day following the pope's death as required, or that of 1939, when three cardinals reached Rome on the morning the conclave opened under new rules 18 days after the pope's death, all the cardinals who made the trip reached Rome by 22 October[2] with days to spare before the conclave began 16 days after Pius' death.[a] For the first time the speed of travel matched the internationalization of the College of Cardinals, thanks to the advancement in air travel. As one newspaper put it, "the Archbishop of New York can reach Rome today faster than the Archbishop of Palermo did a generation ago".[5] This conclave included cardinals from 21 countries, compared to 16 at the previous conclave, and 21 non-Europeans compared to seven.[6] The 17 Italians out of 51 represented their lowest percentage since 1455.[7]


The cardinals anticipated a long conclave.[4] There was no "dominating personality" as Pius had been in 1939 and the customary search for contrast suggested a "pastoral pope" to follow a "diplomatic pope".[8] Another analysis set the likely age range between 55 and 70, with a preference for an Italian outside the curia.[9] Several papabili were discussed. The conservative, supporting Vatican centralization of authority, Giuseppe Siri of Genoa was only 52 and his election would have meant another long papacy like that of Pius IX. The liberal, more disposed to granting independence to local authorities, Giacomo Lercaro of Bologna was 67. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was now the Patriarch of Venice after more than 25 years in the diplomatic service of the Holy See in Bulgaria, Turkey and France. Approaching 77, his age marked him as a possible compromise choice in expectation of a short pontificate, along with his "reputation for being broad-minded and conciliatory".[10] He also represented a combination of diplomatic and pastoral experience.[11] Gregorio Pietro Agagianian, the Catholic Armenian Patriarch of Cilicia, had spent much of his adult life in Rome.[b] He was relatively young at 63 and highly respected, but his non-Italian heritage would have made him a surprising choice. Other candidates mentioned were Ernesto Ruffini of Palermo; and two curia officials, Valerio Valeri and Alfredo Ottaviani. Benedetto Masella, the 79-year-old chosen as camerlengo on 9 October,[1] a veteran diplomat, was also mentioned as a compromise candidate with "his chances diminished because of his age".[12] Also mentioned as a radical departure from tradition was Giovanni Battista Montini, Archbishop of Milan, whom Pius had not made a cardinal.[8] The New York Times cast a wide net, offering more than a dozen names, including two non-Italians, Paul-Émile Léger of Montreal and Manuel Goncalves Cerejeira of Lisbon.[8] Life magazine's coverage included portraits of Agagianian, Lercaro, Montini, Ottaviani, Roncalli, Ruffini, Siri, and Valeri.[13] As the press speculated about interest in a transitional pope and possible discussions among the cardinal electors, the Vatican's mouthpiece Osservatore Romano denounced the "irresponsible lightness" with which the press approached the subject, especially its reports of electioneering.[14] A Moscow radio broadcast criticized Pius for meddling in politics and hoped for a new pope devoted instead to "religious problems".[15]

Betting establishments reported Roncalli was favored by their clients, given 2 to 1 odds.[16] By the second day of the conclave, after four ballots produced no results, speculation centered on Roncalli, Valeri, Masella, and Agagianian, the first three elderly and the last an unlikely outsider.[10]


Pope Pius XII tried in the consistory of 1953 to bring the membership of the College of Cardinals to the maximum of 70, the limit established by Pope Sixtus V in the sixteenth century. On that occasion he named 24 cardinals.[17] When one cardinal-designate, Carlo Agostini, died on 28 December at the age of 64,[18] the Vatican announced another cardinal designate the next day, Valerian Gracias of India, so the College reached its full complement of 70 members, with 26 of them Italian.[19]

Deaths in the intervening five years, including those of Celso Costantini on 17 October[20] and Edward Mooney of Detroit on 25 October just hours before the start of the conclave,[21] had reduced the College to 53 members. József Mindszenty feared the Communist government of Hungary would not allow him to return if he attended the conclave,[22][c] and government authorities refused to grant him safe conduct despite a request by the U.S. State Department at the request of the College of Cardinals.[23] Aloysius Stepinac was too ill to travel from Zagreb, and he was forbidden from leaving Yugoslavia as a condition of his release from prison in 1951.[22][d]

This reduced the number of attendees to 51, 15 of whom were in Rome on 9 October,[25] 45 of whom were in or near Rome by 16 October.[26] All 51 reached Rome by 22 October.[2] Of the 51 electors who participated in the conclave, 17 were Italians.[27] The required two-thirds plus one majority was 35 votes.


The cardinals were required to set the starting date of the conclave between the 15th and 18th days following the death of the pope, no earlier than 24 October and no later than 27 October.[25] On 11 October they set 25 October for its opening.[4] The conclave was held from 25 to 28 October at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.

The voting patterns in the conclave are hard to establish, but some information is consistently reported. Identified as a group with a particular interest, French cardinals were thought to seek greater independence from Rome and Stefan Wyszynski of Poland was thought to be their ally.[28] Several of the French also knew that Roncalli, as nuncio in Paris, had been influential in the careers.[16] Roncalli himself had learned that he had many supporters in conversations with other cardinals before the conclave began.[29] One newspaper reported that Cardinal Pierre-Marie Gerlier of Lyon, asked whom the French cardinals supported as he entered the conclave, said "Roncalli".[30] Giovanni Battista Montini (later Pope Paul VI), a longtime curia official who had recently become Archbishop of Milan, consistently received two votes even though he was not yet a cardinal.[29]

There was no ballot on the first day. Four ballots on the second day proved inconclusive. Both times the smoke that reported the results of the morning and afternoon ballots appeared white at first, leading to excited false reports that the election was over.[31] The official responsible for arrangements outside the conclave notified the cardinals that the color of the smoke had been misread and provided them with "smoke torches from a fireworks factory". The third day's four ballots again failed to select a pope and there was no confusion about the color of the smoke. Requests from a doctor inside the conclave for medical records suggested several cardinals were ill.[32] It took a few ballots for supporters of Lercaro, "who was known to favor a simplified liturgy in local languages", and "the aggressively sententious" Siri to recognize they could not garner the necessary 35 votes.[33] The deadlock that then developed between Roncalli and Agagianian led Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, Dean of the College of Cardinals, to suggest Masella as a compromise candidate without success. Roncalli later said that his name and Agagianian's "went up and down like two chickpeas in boiling water".[34] Black smoke reported the ninth and tenth ballots were inconclusive on 28 October at 11:10 am.[33]

Roncalli accepted his election shortly before 5 pm on 28 October, the fourth day of the conclave and the third day of balloting, and white smoke signaled his election at 5:08 pm.[35] When asked what his name would be, he responded with his surprising choice of a name that had been avoided for centuries:[36][37][38]

I will be called John. A name sweet to me because it is the name of my father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I received baptism, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, and in the first place of the most holy Lateran Church, Our Cathedral. A name that in the extremely ancient series of Roman Pontiffs has the primacy of plurality. Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy are numbered among the Supreme Pontiffs, and almost all had a brief pontificate. I have preferred to hide the smallness of my name behind this magnificent succession of Roman Pontiffs.

An antipope had used the name John XXIII during the Western Schism in the 15th century when three men claimed to be the pope, but Roncalli's mention of 22 "of indisputable legitimacy" established that he wanted to be John XXIII.[39] Some historians thought the question of the earlier John XXIII's legitimacy was unresolved, but Roncalli was less interested in ancient disputes than in the associations he had for the name John and a desire to break with the popes named Pius that preceded him.[40][e] Later he gave Cardinal Maurice Feltin of Paris another reason: "in memory of France and in the memory of John XXII who continued the history of the papacy in France".[41]

Following an old tradition, immediately after his election, Pope John gave his scarlet zucchetto to the Secretary of the conclave, Alberto di Jorio. This indicated that John would include him when he first named cardinals.[1][f] Nicola Canali announced the results of the election and Roncalli's choice of name. Pope John appeared on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica and gave his blessing. At his request, the cardinals did not leave their enclosure but remained in the conclave overnight.[42] He joined the cardinals for dinner that evening, but did not eat. The conclave ended the next day after Mass in the Sistine Chapel and an address by Pope John to the cardinals which was broadcast on radio. He set the date of his coronation for 4 November, sooner than is traditional and a Tuesday rather than the traditional Sunday, perhaps because it was the feast of Saint Charles Borromeo, whom Roncalli had made the subject of a five-volume study.[43] He was reported to have expressed regret that he would "never again see Venice".[44][45]

Early reports said that Roncalli led in the balloting on the morning of the third day and then received almost unanimous support in that afternoon's single ballot.[35] With the election of a 77-year-old, many churchmen interpreted the choice of Roncalli as picking a "pope of transition".[46] John XXIII himself said, when he took possession of the Lateran Basilica on 23 November 1958: "We do not have the right to see a long way ahead of us."[47]

In early November, Pope John wrote letters to Mindszenty and Stepinac expressing regret that they were unable to participate in the conclave.[48] On 17 November he announced a consistory to create new cardinals on 15 December. Ignoring the longstanding maximum of 70 members, he increased the size of the College to 74 members.[49][g]

Siri thesis

Main article: Siri thesis

Some Sedevacantists believed that Cardinal Siri was actually elected Pope in the 1958 papal conclave on 26 October, taking the name of Gregory XVII, but that his election was then suppressed, duress having been applied to him, especially by the French Cardinals led by the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Eugène Tisserant, who would have brought up the threat of anti-Catholic turmoils in USSR-dominated Eastern Europe, if Cardinal Siri, considered a staunch anti-Communist, became the new Pope. There was confusion prior to the final election concerning the smoke and who was really elected pope.

While Siri was a favourite for election before the conclave, he failed to secure enough votes from traditionalist cardinals once the conclave started[citation needed], because at 52 a long pontificate would have been anticipated, and his election would have likely prevented other cardinals who wished to be pope from being elected.[51]

Conclave reform

John XXIII waited several years before issuing a motu proprio to modify certain aspects of the procedures for a papal conclave. In Summi Ponitificis electio, issued on 5 September 1962, he laid out additional rules for impressing all participants with the need for secrecy, even warning the cardinals about communications with their staff (paragraph XIV). His one practical modification reversed his predecessor: Pius XII had required a vote of two-thirds plus one for election. John XXIII returned the margin to two-thirds (paragraph XV).[52][53][54]


Duration 4 days
Number of ballots 11
Electors 53
Present 51
Absent 2
Africa 1
Latin America 9
North America 4
Asia 3
Europe 33
Oceania 1
Italians 17
Balloting reported by Greeley[55]
Ballot: 1 2 3 4 5 final
Ernesto Ruffini 17 17 15 5 5 1
Gregorio Pietro Agagianian 13 13 12 8 6 1
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli 7 7 8 15 20 38
Benedetto Aloisi Masella 5 6 4 3 2 1
Alfredo Ottaviani 2 5 8 16 15 9

See also


  1. ^ Cardinal Spellman of New York, at sea en route to New York when Pius died, disembarked in the Azores and flew to Rome[3] and then considered flying to New York and back in time for the start of the conclave.[4]
  2. ^ He was a faculty member or administrator at several Roman institutions from 1921 to 1937, was named President of the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Oriental Canon Law in 1955, and joined the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in 1958.
  3. ^ Mindszenty had been living in the U.S. Legation in Budapest since 4 November 1956.[23]
  4. ^ He had not come to Rome when he was made a cardinal in January 1953 for fear of not being allowed to return to Yugoslavia.[24]
  5. ^ "[N]either the Council of Constance (1412–15) nor Pope Martin V, chosen by the Council, later wanted to decide who had been pope in the decades of the schism."[40]
  6. ^ He was made a cardinal at Pope John's first consistory in December 1958. Pius XI had done this in 1922; Pius XII had not in 1939.
  7. ^ It would have had 75 members had not Cardinal José María Caro Rodríguez of Chile died between Pope John's announcement of new cardinals on 17 November and the consistory on 15 December.[50]


  1. ^ a b c Cortesi, Arnaldo (10 October 1958). "Cardinals Name a Leader Pending Election of Pope; Rites for Pius Begin Today" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  2. ^ a b Cortesi, Arnaldo (23 October 1958). "Cardinals Visit Suites in Vatican" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  3. ^ "The Papacy" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "Election of Pope to Start Oct. 25" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  5. ^ "As the Catholic Church Prepares to Choose a New Leader" (PDF). The New York Times. 12 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  6. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (25 October 1958). "Cardinals Meet in Secrecy Today" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  7. ^ Tobin, Greg (2009). Selecting the Pope: Uncovering the Mysteries of Papal Elections. Sterling Publishing. p. 40. ISBN 9781402729546. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  8. ^ a b c Hofmann, Paul (12 October 1958). "Cardinals Seek 'Pastoral Pope' to Succeed Pius" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  9. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (19 October 1958). "Papal Choice Guided by Custom and Chance" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b Hofmann, Paul (27 October 1958). "4 are Leading Candidates, Sources at Vatican Believe" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  11. ^ Hofmann, Paul (29 October 1958). "New Pontiff Faces Difficult Problems" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  12. ^ "Cardinal Camerlengo" (PDF). The New York Times. 10 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  13. ^ Hughes, Emmet John (20 October 1958). "The Papacy's Task". Life. pp. 140ff. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  14. ^ "Vatican Assails Press Frivolity" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  15. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (21 October 1958). "Carinals Irked by Soviet Charge" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  16. ^ a b Baumgartner, Frederic J. (2003). Behind Locked Doors: A History of the Papal Elections. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 216. ISBN 9780312294632. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  17. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (30 November 1952). "24 New Cardinals Named by Vatican; American Included" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  18. ^ "Msgr. Agostini, 64, Succumbs in Italy" (PDF). The New York Times. 28 December 1952. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  19. ^ "Prelate in India to be a Cardinal" (PDF). The New York Times. 30 December 1952. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  20. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (18 October 1958). "Cardinal Costantini Dies in Rome" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  21. ^ Hofmann, Paul (26 October 1958). "Cardinal Mooney Dies in Rome at 76" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  22. ^ a b "Mindszenty Will Stay" (PDF). The New York Times. UPI. 9 October 1958. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  23. ^ a b Schmidt, Dana Adams (23 October 1958). "Hungary Forbids Mindszenty Trip" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  24. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (10 January 1953). "M'Intyre in Rome for Cardinal Rite" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 September 2017.
  25. ^ a b "Cardinals Rule; To Pick New Pope" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  26. ^ "Oldest Cardinal Arrives in Rome" (PDF). The New York Times. 16 October 1958. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  27. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (22 October 1958). "Cardinals Allot Conclave Cells" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  28. ^ "Polish Cardinal Arrives in Rome" (PDF). The New York Times. 20 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  29. ^ a b Walsh, Michael (2003). The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections. Sheed & Ward. p. 151. ISBN 9781461601814. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  30. ^ Küng, Hans (2002). My Struggle for Freedom: A Memoir. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. p. 171. ISBN 9780826476388. Retrieved 9 May 2018.
  31. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (27 October 1958). "Cardinals Ballot 4 Times, but Fail to Elect a Pope" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017. Twice during the day the famous chimney ... emitted dense black smoke.... Both signals gave the impression at first that a Pope had been elected.... The smoke that appeared shortly before noon appeared white at first and came in a thin stream.... A few minutes later, however, the smoke signal was repeated and this time it was unmistakably black.
  32. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (28 October 1958). "Voting for Pope Goes into 3d Day After 8 Ballots" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  33. ^ a b Cahill, Thomas (2008). Pope John XXIII: A Life. Penguin Books. ISBN 9781101202043. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  34. ^ Hebblethwaite, Peter (1984). John XXIII: Pope of the Century. Continuum. p. 141. ISBN 9780860123873. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  35. ^ a b Cortesi, Arnaldo (29 October 1958). "Cardinal Roncalli Elected Pope; Venetian, 76, Reighs as John XXIII; Thousands Hail Him at St. Peter's" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  36. ^ "I Choose John..." Time. 10 November 1958. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007.
  37. ^ "Pope Tells Why He Chose Name" (PDF). The New York Times. 30 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  38. ^ "Discordo del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII con il quale accetta il supremo mandato" [Remarks of Holy Father Pope John XXIII in accepting the highest mandate] (in Latin). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. 28 October 1958. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  39. ^ Faggioli, Massimo (2014). John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy. Liturgical Press. p. 107. ISBN 9780814649763. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  40. ^ a b Küng, Hans (2004). My Struggle for Freedom: A Memoir. Continuum. p. 172. ISBN 9780826476388. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  41. ^ Hebblethwaite, Peter (1994). John XXIII, Pope of the Council (rev ed.). Glasgow: Harper Collins. p. 220.
  42. ^ "Pope will assume his Office Today" (PDF). The New York Times. 29 October 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  43. ^ Cortesi, Arnaldo (30 October 1958). "Pope Asks Rulers of World to Join in Seeking Peace" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  44. ^ Hofmann, Paul (30 October 1958). "Pope John Called Affable but Firm" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  45. ^ "Tearful Pontiff Voices Longing to See Home" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 November 1958. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  46. ^ August Franzen, Papstgeschichte, Herder Freiburg, 1988, 410.
  47. ^ Franzen 410
  48. ^ "Pope Writes to Mindszenty and Stepinac Lamenting Their Absence at His Election" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 November 1958. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  49. ^ Cortesi, Arnoldo (16 December 1958). "Pope Elevates 23 to Cardinalate; Deplores China Church Schism" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  50. ^ "Cardinal Caro is Dead in Chile" (PDF). The New York Times. 5 December 1958. Retrieved 25 October 2017.
  51. ^ Roger Collins (24 February 2009). Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy. Basic Books. p. 440. ISBN 978-0-7867-4418-3.
  52. ^ Pham, John-Peter (2004). Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. pp. 333–4. ISBN 9780195346350. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  53. ^ Pope John XXIII (5 September 1962). "Summi Ponitificis electio" (in Spanish). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  54. ^ Pope John XXIII (5 September 1962). "Summi Ponitificis electio" (in Latin). Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
  55. ^ Greeley, Andrew M. (1979). The Making of the Popes 1978: The Politics of Intrigue in the Vatican. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 9780836231007.